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Essex County looking for tax breaks for flood damage

Disaster declaration still pending

June 3, 2011
By NATHAN BROWN - Staff Writer ( , Adirondack Daily Enterprise

ELIZABETHTOWN - Essex County supervisors hope the state will let them give a break on property taxes to people whose property sustained extensive damage due to recent flooding.

Normally, a property's taxable status is based on its assessment on March 1, and it is illegal to change this because of developments after that date, Charli Lewis, the county director of Real Property Tax Services, said Tuesday morning.

However, the state passed bills in 2005 and 2007, in response to flooding in those years, letting counties reduce assessments to reflect flood damage if at least 10 properties in at least one town are damaged to more than 50 percent of their assessed value, Lewis said.

These previous bills set aside state money to make up for the reduced tax revenue, to avoid shifting the burden to a town's other taxpayers. Essex County did not take part in either of these, as it was not affected by the flooding those years like it has been this spring.

The Ways and Means Committee of Essex County's Board of Supervisors passed a resolution Tuesday urging state Sen. Betty Little, R-Queensbury, and Assemblywoman Teresa Sayward, R-Willsboro, to sponsor similar legislation this year.

Dan Mac Entee, Little's spokesman, said Wednesday such legislation hasn't been drafted yet, but it "is something the senator is interested in doing. ... We're hopeful if it gets drafted and introduced, we can get it to pass this session."

The legislative session ends on June 20, and there's a lot on the agenda. Legislative leaders are working to pass a 2 percent property tax cap, and Little said in Tupper Lake last week that she expects this to pass before the end of the session. Gov. Andrew Cuomo has said passing gay marriage legislation and ethics reform are his other two top priorities in the next three weeks.

The region was pounded by flooding a month ago, leading to tens of millions of dollars in damage in Essex and Franklin counties. The disaster is ongoing: Lake Champlain is still above flood level, and flash flooding led to hundreds of thousands of dollars in additional damage in Jay and Wilmington last week.

Cuomo formally requested a federal emergency declaration last week, which would make federal funding available. So far, Essex County has had to commit $2.9 million in fund balance to repair flood-damaged infrastructure. If President Barack Obama issues an emergency declaration, 87.5 percent of that infrastructure repair cost would be reimbursed, with the federal government providing 95 percent of this and the state providing the rest.

"We're very hopeful," U.S. Rep. Bill Owens, D-Plattsburgh, said Wednesday when asked about whether a declaration is coming. "Obviously, with all the disasters that have occurred throughout the U.S., that system, both economically and operationally, is stressed. (But) we feel we should get our fair share of those disaster funds."

There have been numerous natural disasters nationwide this year, including tornadoes in the South that have killed hundreds of people and devastating floods of the Mississippi River. This could affect the amount of federal flood funding the North Country will get.

Owens said that federal aid for infrastructure repair will probably come quicker than individual assistance for property owners, simply based on the paperwork involved. It will be quicker for the federal government to process a county's report of flood damage to roads and bridges than "500 people filing individual claims for damage to their residences and businesses."



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